Anatomy of a survey gone bad

Surveys seem to be marketers go-to sales device these days. But if you look closely, you'll find that they're not always on the up and up.

Sometimes, I get a press release that really irks me. Most of the time it has something to do with survey results. Either the survey bears out some obvious fact that makes me wonder why time, money, and effort were even wasted on it, or the "sponsor" of the survey, astoundingly enough, profits in some way from the positive results.

You've probably seen those emails whose subject lines scream "Football now America's favorite pastime!" and then in tiny letters in the body copy you see "...sponsored by the NFL."

So you can imagine how much eye-rolling I did upon getting what looked like the National Enquirer of emails that screamed "Americans willing to divorce in order to work from home!"

Upon opening the email, you see that 5 percent of the people surveyed said that they would divorce in order to be able to telecommute. Now, maybe it's me, but why would that be a choice? And here are some of the other survey "findings" of what people would sacrifice:

  • Social media - 34%
  • Texting - 30%
  • Chocolate - 29%
  • Smartphone - 25%
  • Shopping - 20%
  • A salary increase - 17%
  • Half of vacation days - 15%
  • Daily showers - 12%
  • Spouse - 5% (just so you know, people in the West were significantly more likely to say they would give up their spouse (7%) in order to telecommute than people in the Midwest (2%).)

First of all, chocolate? In what nightmare (dare I say, apocalyptic?) scenario would one be asked to give up chocolate in order to telecommute? And how does that even make sense? (How is a Cadbury Egg related to telecommuting? Huh? Somebody tell me that!) Oh yeah, and the divorce thing is weird too.

Then you check out this survey's sponsor — TeamViewer. TeamViewer is, coincidentally, a "provider of remote control and online meetings software." So needless to say, they have their reasons to want telecommuting to be something people would sacrifice measurably for.

I'm bright enough to put a survey in perspective on that basis. But when they get into the phrasing of survey questions that are supposed to bear out some relevant fact but are kind of meaningless, then I get a little perturbed.

Case in fact: Here's some more of the survey's findings:

Most Americans believe that more people want the option to telecommute (62%) with an overwhelming percentage (83%) believing that telecommuting is on the rise.

That doesn't mean that most Americans want the option to telecommute. It means that most Americans think that more people want the option to telecommute. Got that? So of all the people asked, "Do you think more people want to telecommute these days?" 68 percent said yes. Big freakin' deal. That tells me nothing as to whether telecommuting numbers are up or down or whether the concept is becoming more popular among working folks.

Just be careful when looking at survey results.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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